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03Dec 2013

Google conversational search – a challenge to SEO?

People search for answers, and Google wants to give them it Crisp and clear. This is why Hummingbird is here!

In their effort to make the usage experience better, Google periodically updates its core search engine algorithm to make it better and more efficient. This also helps search query to return more accurate and relevant SERP’s, and website indexing more in tune with their content and its quality. With its Panda and Penguin updates over the last couple of years, Google has indeed made a number of positive changes to its algorithm, resulting in better quality, more relevant search results. With the recent update which it has christened ‘Hummingbird’, Google has implemented more features and made the engine more powerful, with the promise of more to-the-point search results.

Long tail keywords

Natural search with long tail keywords

 

Hummingbird and Conversational Search

With the new Hummingbird algorithm, Google has changed the way search engines used to treat a search string. Previously, more importance was placed on “keywords” or specific words and phrases in the search text, which would be an indicator of what the user really wanted to find.
Now, with the new conversational search feature, Google is treating search queries more like directly asked questions, called long tail keywords, or natural language search queries – where every word matters. The whole sentence is being taken into account to deliver the right set of results, which are more relevant and satisfy the search query better. Google’s Knowledge Graph is one of the main components here, providing information and significantly adding to Google’s ability to “understand” search strings, instead of performing keyword matches.

Impact on SEO
SEO has always been one of the major factors to get affected whenever Google brings about changes in their search algorithm. With the previous updates during Panda and Penguin, Google changed many of the factors that determined their ranking of web pages, and SEO experts had to consequently factor that into their optimization campaigns.

Similarly, with the new Hummingbird update, SEO looks set for another bunch of challenges as far as approach and strategy is concerned. Earlier, keyword-based SEO efforts were known to produce great results. Now, with the conversational search feature that Google has implemented, stuffing a web page with keywords is not going to be a decisive factor in determining relevance. So far, page ranking and visibility have not been affected much, but with time, these will also begin to change in accordance with Google’s new algorithm.

Google has stipulated one thing very clearly to website owners – provide relevant and meaningful content to users, and see your SERP coming up.

Focus shift for SEO providers
Hummingbird focuses more on conversational search queries which are not keyword dependent, but are more like questions a user might ask to another person. Therefore, instead of specific keywords, the entire sentence is taken into account, and SERPs are delivered based on a clear understanding of its meaning and intent.

No Keyword Data from Google
For SEO professionals, it means a shift of focus from the older keyword-based techniques to a new, conversation-based approach towards SEO. Traditionally, through Google analytics keywords used to find a site were logged and it was visible, But that option no longer exists.

At present, web pages that are already in a good position with respect to search results do not really need to change much. Those web pages, on the other hand, which rely solely on keywords to be counted as relevant, need to rethink their strategy, and use longer phrases and sentences to provide relevant answers to be in tune with the new Hummingbird algorithm.

Steps to take to harness the power of Hummingbird
In order to unleash the full potential of Hummingbird and its new conversational search feature, a few things must be kept in mind to make SEO efforts effective and get results in the long run:

1. Learning curve – It is important for SEO providers to achieve a clear understanding of the way Hummingbird and conversational searches work, and to let the knowledge influence SEO efforts, so as to make complete use of the new features.
2. Strategy shift – Stuffing a web page with keywords is not going to be effective any longer. Rather, focus should be more on real questions that users might query in, regarding a particular topic. This also translates to providing relevant and to-the-point answers to those questions, without worrying much about keywords and their placement.
3. Content – Web page content will remain being the most important factor in determining relevance and ranking. As an SEO professional, you need to use content that provides targeted information about the topic in question in a natural, organic way, and does not seem to be contrived or overly keywords-stuffed. Content must be engaging, interesting and share-worthy to have an advantage in terms of SEO.
4. Technological adaption – With the new conversational search, it might be predicted that a number of users will move from conventional typed searches, to using voice search. It is important to keep in mind that web pages optimized for mobile access might be given preference when searches are being made from mobile devices.

The Hummingbird update is set to make searches more natural and spontaneous, and SEO efforts should be made keeping in mind the conversational nature of the new algorithm’s search system. So while it may look like a threat to an average SEO provider, the fact remains that if relevant content and ethical optimization practices have been a company’s focus in the past, adapting to these changes won’t take much of an effort.